Today we celebrate as Thanksgiving Day. The topic of Thanksgiving is very familiar. The Bible speaks volumes about the topic. The Psalms are resplendent with affirmations of thanksgiving to the Lord for His good ness and mercy. “Oh Give Thanks to the Lord…” rings out loud and clear in this book. We sing hymns like “Give thanks with a grateful heart” very often. Thanksgiving is prescribed as a form of peace offering in Leviticus (Lev 7:12) . The new testament asks us to give thanks in multiple occasions with Paul taking it to the heights exhorting us to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess 5:18). We have heard multiple sermons on Thanksgiving.
Yet, we see thanklessness all around us. We find that we ourselves are not Thankful many of the times. Why do we not have grateful hearts?
One of the reasons that I have discovered for thanklessness is the sense of entitlement.
Let me try to explain.
Long time back, long before I became a Christian, while I was working in Bharti telecom, which later on went to become the famous Airtel, I got a promotion. I was promoted from a Senior Manager to an Assistant General Manager (AGM). I was thrilled at the news. Apart from the fact that it was a significant role in the company, there were many perks that I was “entitled” to on the promotion. One of the perks was a company provided car. That was the time when cars were not that popular as today, and loans were not as easy as it is now. So, I was still commuting on a motor bike and was eagerly looking forward to the opportunity to lay hands on a company provided car. Neville was a small baby and we used to dress him almost as in a space suit to take him out in a motor bike in the cold winter time in Delhi. So I was pretty pleased that I was finally “entitled” to get a company provided car. Unfortunately God had other plans. (later on it would turn out that they were good plans, as His plans always are, but at that time I had no clue.) Just when I was about to exercise my “entitlement” for the company provided car, the company came out with a new policy on company provided cars. From a definite entitlement, it became a perk that was provided on business needs. And since I was in a manufacturing factory role at that time, I was told that I was no more eligible for a company provided car. I fumed and fretted inside. I know that the promotion was a big thing. But far from being thankful for the promotion, I started feeling angry and frustrated at the fact that I was denied an “entitlement”. My frustration reached such high levels that I ended up quitting the company three months after the promotion. (Again, it is another matter that God had good plans for me and I did get a better job with better perks and the move helped in my career). My focus at that time was on what I was “entitled” to , and my anger and frustration was because I was denied my “entitlement”.
Have you felt like that ever? Do you look for what are you entitled to when you get a promotion at office? Don’t we compare and calculate the “entitlements” when we switch jobs? Isn’t that the first question that we ask when we look for a job, position etc? Don’t we fight for our entitlements as citizens of the country? This happens even in families. Parents feel entitled to be looked after by children, Husbands feel entitled to be served by wives, Children feel entitled to be educated at the parents cost to the highest levels possible. I am becoming a senior citizen in a few months, and I am already researching on what are my additional entitlements when I formally become a senior citizen. What concessions am I entitled to? What additional interest rates for deposits am I entitled to? What additional privileges can I get? The sense of entitlement is all around us. Isn’t it?
Bible gives us numerous stories of people who felt “entitled” Numbers 11:4-6 (NKJV) Now the mixed multitude who were among them yielded to intense craving; so the children of Israel also wept again and said: "Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our whole being is dried up; there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes!" It didn’t matter to the Israelites, (though the trouble started with the aliens among them, but the Israelites soon joined them) the Lord God had brought them out of slavery, it didn’t matter to them that the Lord parted the Red sea in front of them and allowed them to cross over on dry land. It didn’t matter to them that the Lord struck down the entire army of the Pharaoh who were chasing them. It didn’t matter to them that the Lord was continuously protecting them from alien nations around them. It didn’t matter to them that they were mere slaves when they were in Egypt. It didn’t matter to them that the Lord provided food from heavens for them in the wilderness. All that mattered to them was the fact that they felt “entitled” to eat fish and meat regularly, as they were doing while they were in Egypt. They felt it is a responsibility of the Lord to provide for them their entitlement, (it was the Lord who brought them out of Egypt, and so it is His responsibility). They had the option of choosing to be Thankful to the Lord for all that He has done to them, but they chose the sense of “entitlement” to and grumbled against the Lord.
Jesus tells us a parable that illustrates our “entitlement” syndrome. Matthew 20:1-15 (NKJV) "For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and said to them, 'You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.' So they went. Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them, 'Why have you been standing here idle all day?' They said to him, 'Because no one hired us.' He said to them, 'You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive.' So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, 'Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.' And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius. But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius. And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, saying, 'These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.' But he answered one of them and said, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?'
The laborers who came in first, came in with the explicit understanding that they will be paid a denarius for a day’s work. And they sure were paid exactly what they were promised, or what was agreed. But the moment they saw that some others who put in lesser hours also got the same compensation that they got, they were disappointed. Their discontentment did not arise out of any injustice done to them, but out of the grace extended to someone else. Their feeling was “I am entitled to more since I put in more hours” . It is not enough if I get what I deserve, or what I have been promised, “My entitlement is more when compared to others” is the theme here.
Let us just look around us. What are most of the advertisements focused on? What are they telling us? Most of the advertisements sell the merchandise by driving home the message that we deserve better. Look at the Naukari.com ad. It is blatantly asking the question “ Are you getting what you deserve?”. One of the most watched advertisements of McDonalds was “You deserve a break today”. Even when an ad does not use the term “deserve” explicitly, they highlight what you are missing by not having a particular merchandise, thereby arousing the “entitlement” feeling in us. Look at political advertisements. Most of them will appeal to the voters by explicitly stating “you deserve better”. (It is a different matter that whichever way the results go, we end up getting the worse) The sense of entitlement is peddled very profitably by advertisers all over. Even if we want to escape it, we will not be able to.
This morning, I encourage us to look at ourselves, examine our hearts. Have we felt entitled to something recently? Has the thought “I deserve better” crossed our minds? I deserve more happiness, I deserve more money, I deserve more rest, I deserve more attention, I deserve a bigger house, I deserve a better car, .. the list might be anything. Have that thought crossed our mind?
If such a thought has crossed our minds recently, it is time for us to take a re-look at the lessons that Bible teaches us about Thankfulness. Today might be a good day to do that since it is Thanksgiving Day.
So, how do we get out of our Entitlement mindset?
The first thing we need to do is to realise that all that we actually deserve is God’s judgement. This might be an unpalatable statement, but is the truth. Romans 3:23 (NKJV) 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, Read this with the first part of Romans 6:23 (NKJV) , 23a For the wages of sin is death, and we get the picture. All our sense of entitlement will melt away, when we truly come to know about the actual entitlement that we have.
Once we realise that we are actually entitled to nothing good, we then can look at all we have and know that all we have is through the Grace that God has given to us through Jesus Christ His son. This will help us to realise the mistake we are making whenever the thought of entitlement hits us. To understand this better, we need to realise that if anyone was entitled to everything it is Jesus Christ. And we are called to imitate Jesus Christ. Philippians 2:5-8 (MSG) 5 Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. 6 He had equal status with God but didn't think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. 7 Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! 8 Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn't claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that: a crucifixion. Jesus Christ was “entitled” to many things, but He chose to give up all His entitlements and chose to serve. Can we try to do something similar?
Thirdly we need to remember that we are not here for ourselves. We are here for a purpose. And that purpose involves others. So instead of focusing on our entitlements, if we can focus on what others around us need, that will please God. It is great that BBF is using this day to help a children’s home. It is certainly a great way to spend a Thanksgiving Day. God is encouraging us to make this a daily habit. Think about the needs of others around us, and we will naturally think less of our own entitlements.
And finally, the sense of entitlement can be replaced intentionally with a sense of Thanksgiving. We can do this if we can listen to Paul and Give thanks in all circumstances. Remember, Paul is not asking us to give thanks “for” all circumstances that we find ourselves in, he is asking us to give Thanks “in” all circumstances.
So this morning, let us pray that the Holy Spirit will help us to replace the sense of entitlement with the sense of Thanksgiving.